Supporting Your Spouse After a Layoff
The unemployment rate nationally is 9.1% as of August 2011.
“Honey, I’ve got some good news and some bad news. The good news is that I’d love to meet you for lunch today if you can make it. The bad news is that I don’t have to go back to the office again…ever. I was just fired.”
It’s now been may years since I heard those devastating words, but it still seems like yesterday. I couldn’t believe my husband had been terminated – after all he had done for the organization. Our family had sacrificed tremendously to give Clyde the space to perform up to the very high expectations of his boss. We’d even relocated when I was eight months pregnant, leaving behind close friends and family. (Many times I’d wished we were closer than ten hours away to share all the newness surrounding the birth of our first child.) Still, I’d graciously accepted the move, knowing that it’d be a great career opportunity for Clyde. Now, as the tears welled up, I felt desperately betrayed and remarkably angry. No courses I’d taken, no experiences I’d had prepared me for the profound sense of loss I felt.
What exactly had transpired at the office? I wanted to hear every maddening detail so I could understand how this disaster could’ve happened. Shell-shocked, my husband couldn’t bear to discuss it, except to comment that in those last days, “My boss was such a jerk.” His silence made it even harder to respond to insensitive remarks “friends” would make, such as: “He must’ve done something really wrong because that company doesn’t fire people without cause.” Not surprisingly, we found it more comfortable to “retreat” than to face others, yet I resented the lack of social contact. Although the country was in a recession and we’d heard about other friends and relatives in similar situations, I felt very much alone.
I knew in my heart that Clyde was a talented, decent man who’d find another – better – job. I reached out to my loving husband, who’d suffered a greater loss than I had. As we began to put the pieces of our lives back together again, we discovered some friends in our small , northern, Wisconsin community who acknowledged the vent and supported us, making us feel great.
Thankfully, that difficult time is behind us. However, some of our hard-earned insights may help you – and your relationship – survive the stresses of unemployment. Spouses occupy a unique place in their partner’s job searches. If your mate is unemployed, you won’t be making networking calls or going on interviews, but you’re directly involved nonetheless.
If you’re very lucky, most of your friends and business acquaintances will be supportive. However, it’s common to experience some distancing of your relationships. Some friends may not acknowledge that you got “zapped,” while others may make you feel complete shunned.
This can be upsetting, but realize that people generally don’t know how to handle grief or trauma well. When a significant loss (e.g., of a marriage, a loved one, or a job) occurs either to themselves or someone else, people typically feel awkward and self-conscious. In fact, friends, neighbors, relatives, and acquaintances who seem to be ignoring your plight are probably just trying to keep your mind off the subject.
One wife was so upset when her husband lost his job, she refused to speak to him for two weeks because every time she did, she either yelled at him or cried. She was terrified about the family’s finances and about their children’s college fund being in jeopardy. Conversely, the husband worried that sharing his deepest concerns would set his wife off. However, she had already experienced the blackest of emotions and thoughts, and his silence only reinforced her greatest fears. Happily once the couple was able to vent, laugh, and cry a bit, neither of them had to “hide out” anymore and much of the fear went away. After this emotional breakthrough, the husband’s campaign accelerated substantially, and he won a fine opportunity in his preferred industry.
For additional Wisdom for the Caregiver: Wisdom-for-Caregiver-Unemployment – PDF
Or see pages 219-226 in The Compassionate Congregation